Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment

Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.) sought Wednesday to prevent the trickle of Democratic impeachment supporters from becoming a wave. 

During an emergency closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, Pelosi didn't broach the topic directly and instead gave the floor to a handful of committee chairs who back her methodical approach. 

“My message was: stay the course we're on,” Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said after the meeting.

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Other lawmakers suggested the caucus remained largely behind Pelosi’s approach, despite the statements in recent days from members backing the beginning of an impeachment inquiry.

“It's clear what her view is, and at the moment I would say the caucus is willing to be led on that issue,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Swing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike MORE (D-Va.) said of Pelosi. 

Some sharp Trump critics — like Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump MORE (D-N.J.), who's been pushing to get the president's tax returns — are on board Pelosi’s approach.

Pascrell spoke out during the closed-door session to note that recent court rulings have sided with the Democrats' requests for information, and more are likely to follow with similar verdicts. 

“At this particular point I think the Speaker is absolutely correct,” Pascrell said. “Richie Neal and his methodical approach I think is absolutely correct,” he added, referring to the Ways and Means Committee chairman. 

Outside the meeting, Pelosi accused President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE of being involved in a cover-up, a tough rhetorical line that sends a signal to lawmakers that she takes White House stonewalling of congressional investigations seriously.

“We do believe that it is important to follow the facts, we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi told reporters.

The Speaker then set out for a meeting with Trump and other congressional leaders on infrastructure. The meeting was abruptly ended by Trump, who expressed anger that Democrats were investigating him, and anger specifically at Pelosi over the cover-up remark.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump said in comments from the White House Rose Garden after the abbreviated meeting. He also said he would not work with Democrats on policy until they ended their investigations.

Pelosi’s remarks could also give ammunition to those arguing that it’s time for an impeachment inquiry. 

“There's ample evidence that we should be having this debate in Congress and before the American people,” said Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg to debate; Warren on separate night MORE (D-Mass.). “His campaign chairman is in prison; don't tell me there's not enough to debate here.”

Pressure on Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings intensified after former White House counsel Don McGahn disregarded a subpoena and refused to appear before Congress on Tuesday, and after GOP Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashMcCabe says it's 'absolutely' time to launch impeachment inquiry into Trump McCabe says it's 'absolutely' time to launch impeachment inquiry into Trump Amash responds to Trump Jr. primary threat with Russia joke MORE (Mich.) came out in favor of impeachment.

Connolly acknowledged “some discussion” on the recent push to launch an impeachment inquiry into the president. “But that's not where we are this morning,” he added.

The White House stonewalling has sparked a new round of Democratic defectors from Pelosi's no-impeachment position. Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroTrump's border funding comes back from the dead House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is one of them. He described a cordial debate in Wednesday's meeting. 

“Some people have said that they're ready to start an impeachment inquiry — not an impeachment vote, but an impeachment inquiry — and others said they're not quite there yet,” Castro said. “And it was a collegial debate. ... Nobody was screaming at each other.”

Rep. Juan VargasJuan C. Vargas ICE does not know how many veterans it has deported, watchdog says ICE does not know how many veterans it has deported, watchdog says Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) is also urging impeachment hearings to begin immediately, arguing it's the surest — and quickest — way for the committees to obtain the information Trump is withholding. 

“We should start the impeachment process. I think it gets us to a place where we can get this information, and then frankly be able to make a determination,” he said.

“By the time the courts decide, I think I'll have grandchildren,” he continued, “and my daughters aren't married."

The other committee heads who spoke during the meeting were Neal and Reps. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWatergate figure John Dean earns laughter for responses to GOP lawmakers The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by MAPRx - Nadler gets breakthrough deal with DOJ on Mueller docs The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by MAPRx - Nadler gets breakthrough deal with DOJ on Mueller docs MORE (D-N.Y.), of the House Judiciary panel; Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersFive memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.), of the House Financial Services Committee; and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Schiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data MORE (D-Calif.), of the Intelligence Committee. 

Some Democrats, while not yet advocating for impeachment, say they are moving closer.

“Inch by inch, yard by yard ... with every new point of resistance ... people are saying, 'Hey, we can't just sit here and do nothing,’ ” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “I'm not there, but I'm a lot closer than I was.”